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CHAPTER 5. His fury riding him hard, Jericho stormed back into his room
His fury riding him hard, Jericho stormed back into his room. Then fell instantly still as he found Delphine asleep on his bed, beneath his blood cloak. Her features pale, her blond hair cascaded around her in a soft, tangled mess that made his hand itch to touch it.
She had the faintest of snores that strangely teased his ears and warmed him.
So instead of yelling at her for something that wasn't her fault, he crossed the room to kneel beside her. It was hard to reconcile her with that sweet, happy baby who had wrapped its little fingers around his and held on so tight that it touched him when nothing ever had before.
Now he knew why her eyes had given him pause.
They had touched him then as they touched him now. But why? What was it about her that quieted him? Who in his right mind would destroy his entire life and future to save a stranger?
Granted, he'd known her mother, but not well. They had been passing strangers, really. He'd known Leta's name. That she was a dream god. But honestly, he'd never cared beyond that. Since Leta had never upset Zeus and hadn't run in the same circles he had, there had been no reason for them to be friendly.
Yet that one night when their worlds had violently collided, they had both lost everything.
Zeus, furious over a dream one of the Oneroi had given him, had demanded all the dream gods be rounded up for punishment. Those like Leta, who were married to humans, were to have their spouses and any progeny they'd produced killed. Zeus had wanted no one to survive who could ever harm him again.
Then the Oneroi had been tortured and stripped of their emotions for eternity. Zeus figured if they had no emotions, they wouldn't feel compelled for whatever reason to play in anyone's dreams again.
What he hadn't realized was that in dreams, they'd be able to channel the sleeper's emotions. So much so that some of the Oneroi would become addicted to it, since it was the only way they could feel anything but emptiness.
So the Skoti had been born. Then it became the job of the Oneroi to police or kill their brethren so that none of them would suffer again under Zeus's command.
A part of that vicious cycle, Jericho had harmed Leta even worse than the Dolophoni and Oneroi had harmed him. They had only killed him. He had taken what Leta loved most.
Her husband and daughter.
Leta's desperate screams still echoed in his memo-ries. She had screamed herself hoarse and he couldn't blame her for it. Not given what they'd taken from her.
Maybe the past centuries were justified after all. What they'd done to her had been inexcusable. The least he could have done was let her know that he'd saved her daughter. But everything had happened so fast, there hadn't been enough time. Not to mention had anyone known what he'd done, they would have killed Delphine instantly.
Yet here she was . . . alive. Because he'd hidden her and had never breathed a word of it.
Jaden was right. His suffering hadn't been in vain. She was grown and beautiful.
Placing his hand to Delphine's warm cheek, he cocked his head to study her resting features. She was so similar to her mother. Yet so different. The blond hair made her features softer. Inviting.
His heartbeat raced at the softness of her skin under the pads of his fingertips. He hadn't really touched a woman in countless centuries.
He ran his hand from her cheek to her hair. A part of him wanted to kiss her so badly that he wasn't even sure how he kept from doing it. Perhaps because she was asleep and he didn't want to violate the peace she seemed to have found.
Was she dreaming?
What did Oneroi dream of? His dreams used to be of battle. To his knowledge, he'd never had peace in the dream realm. As an immortal god, he'd been violent and cruel. His dreams had reflected his reality.
As a man, he hadn't dreamed at all since he'd spent the nights as a corpse. No, that wasn't true, he'd dreamed while conscious. And in those, he'd escaped to peaceful havens. A quiet beach. A cabin in the woods. A lone temple in the desert. Places that were isolated from the world where no one could make him feel small or worthless. Where no one could kill him or hurt him in any way.
Where he had his old strength back and no one could touch him . . .
Now he was there at long last. He had power. He had dignity. Most of all, he had a beautiful woman in his bed . . .
The very one who had cost him everything.
He hated her for that. She'd grown up without knowing her life had been paid for with more suffering than she could ever imagine.
He clenched his hand in her hair, wanting to hurt her for that. But he knew it wasn't her fault. She'd been an innocent child.
It had been his own decision to ruin his life. He could have killed her as Zeus ordered and everything would have been fine.
"Were you worth my sacrifice?" he whispered,
Her eyes fluttered open as if his words had reached her. The moment she saw him, she jumped with a loud gasp. He tried to pull his hand away, but her hair was wrapped around his fingers. She yelped as her movements pulled it.
"I'm sorry," he said, wondering why he bothered since it was her own actions that had hurt her, not his.
"What were you doing?" she accused.
Delphine frowned at his sullen, angry tone. His demeanor reminded her of a child caught with his hand in a cookie jar. Rubbing the sore place on her head, she stamped down her own anger. "Where do you keep going?"
"I went to see Deimos."
She sat up as a shiver of excitement went through her. "Did you see M'Adoc? Is he alive?"
Jericho felt jealousy flare at the obvious concern and care she had for the leader of the dream gods. M'Adoc had never sacrificed for her. "No, I didn't see him."
She looked crushed, and it killed the satisfaction he wanted to feel. "Is Deimos all right?"
That was a matter of opinion. Personally, he'd never thought the god was all there, but that was a separate argument. "I've seen him look better. Still, he's alive, even though Noir has carved him up pretty good."
"And I suppose that made you happy."
"No," he answered honestly. "In spite of the fact 1 wanted to beat him myself, I don't like seeing anyone tortured."
"Not even Prometheus?"
He growled at her. "Why do you provoke me?"
Delphine paused at his question. Honestly, she didn't know. It really wasn't in her nature to go after people. Yet the moment he drew near, she wanted his jugular. How out of character for her. "You irritate me."
"I irritate you?"
She nodded. "You have the power to save people and yet you intend to fight for Noir. That irritates me."
He snorted at her words. "Give me one real, tangible
reason why I should fight for a god who has already shown me how little regard he holds for me. For an entire pantheon that spent thousands of years attacking me."
"It's the right thing to do." That sounded ridiculous even to her.
He arched one brow.
"Okay. So I admit it doesn't make sense, but it is the best reason. You are a good man. I know it."
He laughed bitterly as he moved to put his sword down on the dresser. His hand lingered on the sheath as if he were afraid to let go of it. And from this angle, she had a very nice view of his muscular back. Tall and handsome, he could easily take a woman's breath away and he made her heart race.
"You know nothing about me," he said simply.
"I'm willing to learn."
He turned on her with anger again. "What game are you trying to play?"
She backed up on the bed. Not afraid of him, but concerned that she continued to irritate him even when she didn't mean to. "No game, Jericho. I'm here. I'm your prisoner. Azura gave me to you naked and rather than attack me or hurt me," she picked up a corner of the cloak that was still draped around her, "you covered me up. Those aren't the actions of someone who's innately cruel. I think there's a lot more good inside you than just this." She was willing to bet on it. "Why did you cover me?"
Jericho ground his teeth. Because no one deserves to be shamed like that. He knew from personal experience. But he would never say that out loud. He didn't want her to know that he was weak where she was concerned. She'd be able to use that against him, and he'd had enough of the gods playing with his life. No one would ever have control over him again.
"Asmodeus?" he called.
He waited until the demon appeared.
"You rang, oh evil Minor Master?"
"I'm hungry. Where do we find food here?"
Asmodeus's eyes widened as if he thought Jericho insane for even asking. "Truthfully, I don't advise eating in this realm. I mean, you can if you want, but. . ."
"But what?" Jericho prompted after Asmodeus seemed to have sputtered to a stop.
He twisted his hands together. "We have certain demons who are motivated by the smell of food. They tend to get rather violent whenever they smell it. I personally wouldn't be caught eating anything because I would end up dead. You might not. But you'd still have to tight them, and since some of them arc rather ugly and really, really smelly, it might spoil your appetite. Then again, maybe not. Doesn't spoil Noir's. I think it makes him hungrier, especially when he guts them. Sick, but true."
Asmodeus looked at Delphine, and his eyes widened again, this time in appreciation and interest. "Oh, hello, me lovely, we haven't met." He flashed her a charming smile as he kissed her tenderly on the hand. "Asmodeus, demon extraordinary at your service. Any service you may require, especially those that involve nudity and adjoining body parts joining other people's body parts."
"Asmodeus!" Jericho snapped. "You don't see her, do you hear me?"
He jumped back as if something had electrocuted him. "Completely blind, Minor Master. Hearing is intact." He put his hands out as if feeling for furniture. "Is there anyone here besides the two of us? No? Good. I'm leaving now unless Minor Master has another preferably nonpainful task for me,"
"Cool beaners." Asmodeus vanished.
Delphine frowned at Jericho. "He's not right, is he?"
"Yeah, I think Noir may have hit him on the head one time too many and way too hard." He faced her. "So would you like to join me for something to eat?"
"As long as it doesn't involve the entrails of demons, I might be persuaded."
"Demon entrails have no appeal for me, either. Zeus's are another matter."
She wrinkled her nose at the mere thought. "Ew."
He held his hand out to her.
Delphine hesitated, wondering if she should be doing this instead of finding a way to M'Adoc and Deimos, but she couldn't get near them without Jericho. Maybe food would predispose him to a better, more amicable mood.
Against her better judgement, she took his hand in hers.
As soon as she did, he teleported them back to New Orleans, to a small dark alley at Exchange Place. It looked to be early evening, but it was hard to say for sure since time on earth moved differently than it did in other realms. What might seem like fifteen minutes in Azmodea might be a year on earth. A slight exaggeration, but. . .
She looked around the deserted alley that had closed and boarded-up shops. What a strange place to choose. She didn't know what she'd been expecting, but this wasn't it.
"What are we doing here?"
He changed his clothes into a pair of jeans, a black shirt and dark hair before he started toward the street. "Going to eat. What? You got Alzheimer's?"
She narrowed her eyes at him. "No, but I don't see a restaurant around here."
He gave her a "duh" stare. "If I put us inside the restaurant, people might scream and freak. Not to mention, it has a Web cam there that makes it even harder to just poof inside. Damn modern people and their wizard's tools," he said sarcastically. "I miss the days when we could just kill and roast a chicken, huh?"
She rolled her eyes. "You really can't help being an asshole, can you?"
"I probably could, but it's not worth the effort. Gods forbid you might actually take a liking to me. Then where would we be?"
"I have no idea, but I might be willing to risk it."
His eye turned dark. "You don't ever want to see what's inside me, Delphine. It's not pretty."
Delphine reached up to touch the scar that ran out from under his eye patch.
He caught her hand in a tierce grip. "I didn't say you could touch me."
"No, you didn't. Sorry." She pulled her hand from his and watched as he walked stiffly to the street and toward a restaurant called Acme Oyster House.
Delphine followed even though her heart was heavy with guilt over eating while her brethren were suffering.
Win him over and you can save them. What else could she do? So long as she lacked her god powers, she was at his mercy.
She winced as she finally understood the true horror of all he'd been through. It was so hard to be without the powers that had been a part of her almost the whole of her life. To be at the mercy of others. How had he stood it?
The world was terrifying like this. And it gave her a whole new appreciation for the humans who inhabited this place. Especially since they were the prey for so many more powerful beings.
She paused at the door while the hostess grabbed their menus and looked around at the gathered people. People who had no idea that Jericho was a god and she his prisoner . . .
The hostess seated them at a table in front of the window that looked out onto the street. Even though there were TVs playing and people talking, she could still hear the music from Bourbon Street, which was just a few feet away.
How she wished Deimos and the others could be here now and not in whatever holding cell Noir was using for them.
"Is something wrong?" Jericho asked.
She glanced at him and sighed. "I'm worried about my friends. It seems wrong to be eating while Noir is torturing them."
Jericho set the menu down to give her a stem glare. "First of all, you don't want me to get too hungry. Ever. I'm an even worse bastard than normal and having starved for centuries, I'm not about to deprive myself again when I don't have to. Second, let me tell you something about your friends. Deimos held me down while I was branded and then took me to the human realm where I was left with nothing. No clothes, no money. Not a damn thing to call my own. Hence the aforementioned starvation."
She cringed at what he described.
But he took no mercy on her. "A hundred years later, M'Ordant"—one of the leaders of the Oneroi who had been her mentor—"dumped me inside a Spartan prison camp and told the commander I was a traitor to their people. You don't really want to know what the Spartans did to people they thought betrayed them. D'Alerian"—the third leader with M'Adoc rounding out the crew—"had me put inside a Turkish prison in the fifteenth century where I was impaled after being tortured for three weeks." His face was stoic, but the pain in his eye was excruciating. "So you'll have to excuse me if I have a hard time feeling too sorry for them right now. At least no one's shoving a sharp spike up their asses."
Her stomach shrank at the horrors of his past. "You were impaled?"
His expression turned to chiseled stone. "You know the worst part about impalement? You don't die immediately. You hang on bleeding and aching as the spike works its way slowly through your body until it pierces some major organ. Pray to the gods you worship that you never know what that feels like." But he did.
She looked away, unable to cope with the emotions that filled her. How could they have done that to one of their own? Then again, they'd been even crueler to others for reasons every bit as petty. It was why she'd done her best to stay off all their collective radar.
Her throat tight, she felt a tear slide down her cheek.
Jericho froze as he saw the sparkle in the candle-light. Without thinking, he reached out to touch her wet cheek. "Tears?"
She brushed his hand aside and wiped her cheek. "I'm sorry for what was done to you. I really am."
Tears. . .
No one had ever cried for him before. And when she met his gaze, her hazel-green eyes glistened from the ones yet to fall. Something inside him snapped painfully at that. He made her feel pain. How could that be?
No, it wasn't possible. It was another trick meant to weaken him. Ruin him.
He growled low in his throat. "What are you doing?"
She looked confused by his question. "Nothing. Sitting here."
He grabbed her wrist in his hand. "Are you playing me?"
"Playing you how?"
He tightened his grip. "I swear to you if you're trying to seduce me to your side, I will kill you. And it'll take a lot more than fake tears to sway me."
She snatched her hand away from his hold. "Are you really that cynical that you don't think anyone could feel bad for the way you were treated?"
He didn't answer.
Delphine was aghast at him and his inability to understand compassion. Dear gods, with the lack of emotions he had, he should have been an Oneroi himself. "Fine, then. I'll be a total bitch since that's all you can take." She flipped her menu open and started reading.
Jericho wanted to be angry and offended, yet he somehow felt. . .
He actually had to bite back an apology.
For what? He'd spoken the truth. He didn't want faked emotions that were designed to weaken him.
What if they weren't?
What if she was being honest and they were real?
Don't go there, fool. You know better. The very person who birthedyou couldn't feel pity or compassion for you. How could a stranger?
It was true. He was nothing to her, and she was . . .
His reason for suffering.
He glanced at the menu, then looked back at her. Her brow was furrowed as she read and a lock of blond hair fell into her eyes. Her gaze was completely focused on the food. For some reason he couldn't fathom, he had a desire to brush that stray piece of hair back into place.
What is wrong with me?
"How did you grow up?" he asked before he could stop himself.
Her scowl made a deep impression on her forehead. "Pardon?"
"Your family. What were they like?"
Delphine started to tell him it was none of his business, but the sincerity in his eye kept her from it. He seemed to be genuinely curious, and she didn't want to anger him again. She actually liked their more calm discussions. Few though they were.
"I knew nothing of my real father." It was something she'd never really talked about before. Mostly because no one ever asked or cared. "Arikos said my father was one of the Skoti who seduced my mother in her sleep." And a part of her still wished he'd come forward to claim her once she'd joined their ranks. That was the human side of her that at least wanted a face to put with her mysterious procreator. It would have been nice to have known which of the thousands of them had fathered her.
But she didn't want to dwell on that. "My mother was a gentle woman. Lovely." A tiny smile played at the edges of her lips as she remembered the beauty of her mother's face and the tenderness of her touch. She'd truly loved her mother, who had never once raised her voice to anyone. It didn't mean her mother didn't stand up to people. She just did it in a calm, sweet way that Delphine had always admired.
"She used to make these honey cakes that were so good they would melt before you could even swallow them." She closed her eyes as her throat tightened with the part of her heart that still ached over the fact that her mother was no longer with her. "I asked her once what her special trick was to make them like that. She told me it was the love she had for me that she put into them." Delphine blinked away tears at the thought.
How could she still miss a woman she hadn't seen in centuries? And yet there would always be a part of her that missed her mother and her mother's kind heart and gentle soul.
"Did you have a stepfather?"
She nodded. "He was a good man. A blacksmith. I used to take drinks to him while he worked, and he would make up funny stories to entertain me." She even had the crude silver heart he'd made for her when she was a girl that bore his smith's mark. She kept it in a small box in her room on the Vanishing Isle. Even with muted emotions, she had loved them greatly, and that spoke more of them than it did her. The fact that they could make her feel what they did. . .
A part of her was sad that she hadn't possessed a completely human heart to give them all the love they'd deserved in return.
Jericho looked away from her wistful face, wishing he could relate. But the world she described was nothing like his childhood. His parents had seldom been kind and the two of them had fought ferociously.
"And siblings? Did you have any of those?"
She shook her head. "No. It was just me. I think it's why they doted on me the way they did."
"And were they good to you?"
Delphine scowled suspiciously. Not that he blamed her. He was being nosy, but he had to know if he'd done right by her. Please tell me I didn't suffer without reason. . . . He needed to hear that he'd spared her more misery, though he wasn't sure why it was so important to him. All he knew was that a part of him would die if she'd been harmed in any way by his actions.
"Why do you care'?" she asked. "I'm curious."
Still, suspicion hung heavy in those hazel eyes. She wanted a real reason, but he couldn't give it to her. "Yes, they were very kind to me. Even though we were poor, I never wanted for anything. I think since they couldn't have any more children, they lavished all their love on me."
Jericho didn't know why that made his heart lighter, but it did. He'd chosen well for her parents.
She took a sip of water. "What about you? Did you have a good relationship with your parents?"
He snorted before he could stop himself. But why hide the truth? It wasn't like the whole of Olympus didn't know what kind of family he had. "My mother is the goddess of hatred and my father the god of war-craft. My sisters were the goddesses of force and victory, my brother the god of rivalry. Let's just say those personalities don't lend themselves to a calm, peaceful home. Any time things started to go too smoothly, Zelos was there to stir everyone up and get us going at each other's throats."
And those were the good memories. His father had spent his childhood making them all "stronger." His mother filling them with hatred because in her words, "Love is fickle and it will betray you. But hatred lasts forever. It gives you strength and it will never leave you cold."
The fact that the other gods, including Zeus, swore on his mother and then were terrified to break those oaths for fear of her wrath, pretty much said everything there was about his mother's "dainty" personality.
Her idea of tucking her young into bed had been to throw him into a lava pit and watch as he almost drowned.
"Why did you do that?"
"It is by your own strength that you will be known. You can never rely on another for help. Everyone sinks or swims by their own effort. Never forget that."
"In a lava pit "
Her answer had come as a vicious backhand. "You will stand. You will fight and you will never shame me."
Yeah. . .
His childhood had been great indeed.
Delphine shook her head as she twisted the straw wrapper in her hands. "I met your brother Zelos once. He was a total jerk."
"You have no idea." She should have tried growing up with the mean bastard.
Jericho paused as the waitress returned to take their orders.
Delphine hesitated when it was her turn. She looked at the menu uncertainly. "I don't know what to eat."
Jericho leaned back in his chair. "Try the medley. It has some of everything. If you don't like it, you can always order something else."
"Okay." She ordered it, then handed her menu to the waitress. "So have you eaten here a lot?" she asked once they were alone again.
He glanced out the window at the small line of people that was forming, waiting to come inside and be seated. "No. Darice's girlfriend works here and she used to bring food over to Darice during lunch. It always smelled and looked good so I wanted to try it."
Jericho paused as he became aware of what they were doing. . . . He was eating with a companion. He hadn't done this in centuries.
More than that, they were chatting. Sharing. Something he'd never really done with anyone.
Delphine fell quiet as she waited for her food. She kept thinking of M'Adoc and Deimos, along with the others Noir had taken. What were they going through right now? She knew they were in pain and she couldn't stop dwelling on it.
And as she glanced around the restaurant, she wondered what would become of places such as this in the human realm if Noir succeeded with his plans. Would any of it be left standing or would he tear it all down?
It wasn't right or fair. None of the people who were laughing and talking had any idea that evil was around them. That they were on the brink of total annihilation and that one of the people who could stop them sat across from her not even caring.
She watched as a couple walked out the door with their arms draped over each other. Frowning, she couldn't take her eyes off them as they paused outside the window and kissed. They looked so happy and in love.
What would that feel like?
"You look like you've never seen people kissing before."
She glanced back at Jericho. "I've seen it before. Just not in real life."
He watched the couple until they vanished out of sight. Then that penetrating gaze came back to hers. "Have you never kissed?"
She gave him a droll stare. "Arik took me to the Vanishing Isle when I was fourteen. So no. I've never kissed. The Oneroi aren't really big on affection. It goes against that whole no-feelings thing."
Jericho had to concede that point. Zeus had done a number on all of them. "Were you never tempted to go Skoti?"
"It has crossed my mind briefly, but no, not really. I would never become one of them."
Her adamant vehemence surprised him. He'd struck a nerve with her. "Why?"
Her gaze saddened as she swirled ice in her glass with her straw. "There was a woman in my village when I was a young girl. Beautiful and sweet, she used to bring fresh bread to my parents and make doll clothes for me. Then one afternoon, I noticed how tired she looked. She hadn't been sleeping for days. Every night her dreams worsened. Within two weeks, she'd gone insane from them, and that was before the Skoti had lost their emotions. Back when they preyed for nothing more than cruelty."
Delphine flinched; the memories were hard for her even now. "I can still remember the wails of her children when they found her. She'd killed herself to get away from the demons in her sleep. It wasn't until Arik came to me that I learned it was the Skoti who'd driven her mad and why it was so important that we fight and stop them. Any time I ever considered allowing my emotions to rule me, I thought of Nirobe. I would never harm someone the way they'd harmed her. It's wrong to prey on people."
Wow, he wished he had those convictions. But truthfully, he felt vindicated for any action he took against mankind.
Still. . .
She shook her head. "I don't understand why people can't be nice to each other. Why someone always has to push someone else around."
Unlike her, he got it completely. "It's intoxicating to feel that power. To know that in your hands is their life or death. That no matter what they do or how hard they fight, they're no match for you."
Her gaze turned harsh and condemning. "Do you really feel satisfied when you've crushed them knowing they were weaker than you? That they couldn't fight back and win? Is that true victory?"
Jericho looked away.
"Tell me," she said, her voice thick with conviction. "I want to understand because I really don't get it."
Jericho swallowed, unable to meet her gaze as he remembered the times in his past when he'd gone after weaker enemies. There was one truth he kept coming back to, and it was one he didn't want to think about. "I was always still empty afterward. The exaltation of victory is momentary and fleeting. By the time it's felt, it's gone." "So why do it?"
Because it was better than the emptiness inside. At least there for a moment, he had some kind of feelings besides hate and pain. That was all he knew. It was why Nike had been so precious to him. She had made him feel something else.
But even that had always been fleeting. Nothing could take away or soothe the rage and hate in his heart. At least not for more than a few minutes at a time.
It was those minutes he craved.
He sat back as the waitress brought their food and set it down in front of them. Silently, he ate his oysters while Delphine picked daintily at her food. Her nose wrinkled ever so slightly as she bit into her gumbo.
"Is it not good?"
She wiped her mouth. "Yes. But very different. Spicy. I wasn't prepared for that."
He pushed his basket of crackers toward her on the table. "That'll help absorb it."
"Thank you." She started to bite into the wrapped package.
"Wait," he said, pulling it out of her hand. "You have to unwrap the plastic."
He shook his head, amused by her confusion. She could be so knowledgeable and yet so childlike. But then, her experiences in the world had been through dreams and not based in reality. It made a big difference.
Äàòà äîáàâëåíèÿ: 2015-09-13; ïðîñìîòðîâ: 4; Íàðóøåíèå àâòîðñêèõ ïðàâ